All of us know the feeling when you have made that perfect shot on a big elk. The rush of emotions run wild and you can't help but give a loud shout to the hunting gods. We also know the feeling when weeks of scouting and hunting end with a tan hind quarter running the wrong direction. Either way it all starts with the early season scout.
Now I know a lot of you would say that the hunt starts when you get in the woods but there is a lot more to a successful hunt than what you do in the woods. Pre-set up is key when hunting for elk. Little things like keeping your gear outside in a plastic bag pre washed with scent lok and free of any uv brighteners and unwanted scents could determine your success. Or not smoking that morning cigar that you crave so much. An elk can smell that cigar smoke and other human scents from hundreds of yards away. Scent control is the #1 priority in my book and it should be in yours. Other things like not taking that shower the night before with all sorts of smelly soap will help your scent lok gear work even better. If I’m hunting for the weekend my last shower will be Thursday night.
Trust me when I say that your B-O won't scare an elk as much as your Irish Spring soap you lathered up with. I use the new Primos scent-less deodorant to help with controlling B-O. There are hundreds of ways to control scent and it is very important to use these methods if you want to be successful each hunt.
Scouting is another key part of elk hunting. I like to scout low land fields right before light to see where the elk are and where they are going to go. If you are watching a herd of elk right before light and expect to make a good stalk than you're not going to be happy when the elk smell you because of the rising thermals. Always scout first, watch where the elk go and plan for the next morning hunt. If you find where the elk are in a low land field, plan on hiking in the dark around the back side of the mountain so you are in their bedding grounds right before they get there. You must be sneaky and smart when choosing your route. I try and stay directly parallel about a half mile with where I think the elk route is. Once I get close to where the elk have been hanging during the daylight hours I try and find a fresh elk bed to cover myself in its scent. Some of you might be thinking that sounds crazy, why not just use scent in a bottle? I have learned that if you smell like an elk it’s good, but if you smell like a specific elk that is in the herd you are much more likely to get close. With your gear pre-scent locked and now smelling like one of the elk, it’s time to really start the hunt.
Once I get set up I like to do a locate bugle as I call it. Usually you can get some response to find out how close the elk are to you. After determining how far out they are I like to start my cow calling. I try and only bugle once every 5 min if need be to follow the herd's path. I wait until I can hear the elk bugle about 2,000 yards away and I stop bugling and start wailing the cow calls. I really like the new "I make a da bull crazy" cow call from Primos. It really does make the big bulls go crazy! If you are hunting for a big bull then you need to have a caller about 70 yards behind you to get the bull to come to where you are set up. If you are by yourself, continue to cow call until the elk are surrounding you and you have spotted a shooter. This is where time and experience pays off. There is no real right and wrong way of calling a bull in by yourself, it’s all about what that bull is interested in that day and just how things unfold. You have to experiment with it for a while to perfect your skills. A lot of the time there will be smaller bulls coming in to check you out before the big dog even thinks about coming close. This is a perfect time for you spike and cow elk hunters to score your kill. If you hear a big bugle 3 yards down hill from you, chances are there are elk all around you. Almost every time the herd bull is limping behind, making sure all of his cows are going where they should be.
Now that you have pre-set up your gear, scouted the elk, hiked to your honey hole and, called in Mr. Top Shelf, it’s time to make your shot. Now this is when practice and experience pays off. You ask yourself, how and when do I pull back my bow and, what if the bull starts to run off? First off, Always have a mouth call ready when you think it’s time to make a shot. Timing is key when choosing to draw back on your trophy. I like to try and wait till I know the elk is not looking or is just about to come over the ridge so I can draw undetected. If that is not possible and the elk is standing 30 yards from you and it is looking closely for that cow, that really is you, I wait as long as possible until the elk is about to get too close or is about to run and I make my move to draw back. As I draw back if the elk spooks I will use my mouth call to try and stop him one last time to release the arrow. Most of the time this is your only option and it usually works out great. The elk will give one last look at you and it will be its last!
I used these skills and techniques to harvest my 2008 archery spike elk. With practice and time you can hone your skill level and use calling very effectively. I am super pumped for the day I draw a big bull tag for my area so I can harvest a world class bull elk with my bow.